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Delhi violence hate platforms? TV channels 'incited' communal strife, alleges report

By Rajiv Shah* 

Claiming that there has been "no comprehensive analysis of media reporting and commentary” on the “developments” following the passage of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA), and the February 2020 communal violence" in Delhi, a recent report, in an analysis of debates aired on the six most watched news channels from December 2019 to February 2020, has said there was “a similarity in rhetoric, positioning and language” to air “prejudice and suspicion against the Muslim community.”
There was a concerted attempt on the part of these channels -- Republic TV and Times Now which are English channels, and Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, and Republic Bharat -- to frame the issues around the CAA as Hindus versus Muslims with Muslims being portrayed as “troublemakers” or “ungrateful citizens”, or people whose actions were “antithetical to national interest”, the report, titled “Troubling Dualities: News Media as Arbiter of Fact or Platform of Hate?”, alleges.
Forming part of a larger study, “Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020”, the report, based on viewing 326 episodes on these channels running for 243 hours -- accessed through their websites or social media accounts – accuses them of using “sensationalist tickers, hashtags and headlines flashed across TV screens” during their primetime shows.
Published by the advocacy group Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), which consists of former civil servants, the authors of the study are: Justice Madan B Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court; Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts; Justice R.S. Sodhi, former Judge of the Delhi High Court; Justice Anjana Prakash, former Judge of the Patna High Court; and GK Pillai, IAS (Retd.), former Home Secretary, Government of India.
Pointing towards how these channels sought to project the December 2019 nationwide protests against CAA as “singularly disruptive and violent”, the report says, they “uniformly” and “repeatedly” called anti-CAA protesters “vandals”, “rioters”, “potential terrorists”, “anti-national”, “tukde-tukde gang”, “victimizers”, “cowards”, “blackmailers” and “dangerous”.
Thus, according to the report, an episode of Republic TV’s primetime show, aired on December 16, 2019, was punctuated with flashing text, such as “Using rights excuse for riots?”, and ran the hashtag, #RightsNotRiots. “In the episode, the anchor repeatedly called protesters potential terrorists trying to incite communal violence”, the report notes.
And when on December 17, violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters in Delhi’s Seelampur-Jaffrabad area in the daytime, the report says, India TV’s primetime show posed a series of rhetorical questions: “Who set Delhi on fire?, Who burnt down Delhi?”
The show, the report says, displayed such flashing texts: 210 minutes of riots in Jaffrabad, 100% complete picture; who has spread Modi phobia in Delhi’s Muslims?; and direct guerilla war against PM Modi). On December 18, DNA (Zee News) claimed that the protests against the CAA are a larger conspiracy to spread communal riots with the help of social media tools, which were referred to as “Digital Danga”, even as the anchor termed the protesters as “Urban Naxals”.
And, the Republic Bharat on December 27, 2019, basing on “uncorroborated visuals and WhatsApp messages”, said there were calls to start jihad after meeting at India Gate with hockey sticks and baseball bats, attack the police and be prepared for becoming martyrs. However, there was “no description of the origins or authenticity of the WhatsApp message”, the report comments.
In January-February 2020, the Shaheen Bagh protests were sought to be “vilified by these channels”, the report says, stating, on January 27, 2020, an episode of DNA (Zee News) wondered, “Are we going to now need visa for entering Shaheen Bagh?”, with the accompanying hashtag #370InShaheenBagh. It says, “In the show, the anchor compared Shaheen Bagh to conflict sites like Kashmir and Syria in an attempt to characterize the protest site as violent and aggressive.”
On the next day (January 28, 2020), the telecast ran with the text “Shaheen Bagh should now get emptied”, and the hashtag was #LekarRahengeShaheenBagh (We will take over Shaheen Bagh). The anchor asked the audience: “Can’t all of us together free Shaheen Bagh from the tukde-tukde gang?”, stating the protesters were speaking the same language as in Pakistan or Kashmir.
Underling that news channels uncritically accepted “inciting comments made by panelists invited for discussions”, the report gives the example of how, on January 28, 2020, in an episode of Aaj Tak, the anchor praised provocative statements made by a BJP representative who quoted an unsubstantiated Imam order “to break the country” and “connect fire he with jihad”.
Then, on February 24, 2020, on a Republic TV host accused anti-CAA protesters of killing head constable, Ratan Lal, who died amidst mob violence. The report comments, “The exact circumstances of his killing remain under investigation to date, and certainly were not known on February 24.” Yet it featured flashing text such as, “Rioters kill police constable” followed by, “They have blood on their hands”.
Thus, DNA (Zee News) on December 26 said, “DNA test of expert stone pelters from Kashmir have reached UP”, claiming, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the Popular Front of India (PFI) and “expert stone pelting groups from Kashmir” were funding and training anti-CAA protesters for violence.
Then, the report says, India TV on January 3, 2020 portrayed Muslims, including a prominent politician, as colluding with the protesters for violence at local levels through the cover of mosques and the protests. The episode flashed the text, “Remove CAA and say La Ilaha Illlahah. Listen to each slogan and listen to the meaning of the protesters.” The show’s anchor posed the question, “How do Modi’s enemies give tuitions to Muslims?”, asking audience to pay close attention to the slogans which tell the protesters that “their religion is under threat.”
The episode, says the report, continued, “In the name of saving one’s religion, Muslim youth are being provoked and influenced into accepting the path of jihad.” It predicted, “A rally against the CAA would definitely be taken out after jummah prayer.” The report comments, “By casting protest as akin to notions of religious warfare, the show’s anchor seemed intent on creating a fear psychosis in the minds of non-Muslims.”
The anchor “repeatedly insinuated that the killing of Ratan Lal and acts of violence were deliberately being done to coincide with the official visit of then American President Donald Trump, which took place on February 25”,the report says. On the same day, Zee News said that “a conspiracy was in play with the prime intent of maligning India before the international world during President Trump’s visit”, claiming the “tukde-tukde gang and opposition parties were behind this.”
There was a similarity in rhetoric, positioning and language to air prejudice and suspicion against the Muslim community
Then, says the report, on February 25, 2020, Republic Bharat pushed the narrative that the protesters were in fact rioters by stating, “These people who are talking about CAA, they are rioters, they don’t know anything about the CAA, NRC.” And, the Republic TV made the remark, “The Nanis and Dadis (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh are basically jihadi elements sitting and inciting a violent mob here.”
The report notes, “An important strand of the vilifying narrative used by these channels was to show anti-CAA protests being imbued with designs of Muslim extremism, backed by Islamic extremist groups. The language of attacking Hindus, of waging jihad, was used to embed the Hindu-Muslim binary with Muslims as aggressors.”
Then, says the report, on January 16, 2020, Republic TV, focusing on the central question, “Is Shaheen Bagh a paid protest?” with the hashtag #ProtestOnHire, said, “This is the attempt of Islamic radicalization that is going on in Shaheen Bagh. Shaheen Bagh is not a people’s protest. It is political plus it is an attempt at Islamic radicalization. It is an attempt at religious polarization.”
The TV continued, “If you want to protest, go to Jantar Mantar. Why do you have to be in a Muslim majority area in Delhi? This has to stop at some point of time. The whole country is fed up with this Shaheen Bagh rubbish. This McDonaldization of the protest movement... Start a Shaheen Bagh franchise. You have some free time, start a Shaheen Bagh in Pune, start a Shaheen Bagh in Kolkata, start a Shaheen Bagh in Bengaluru. But it’s now going strongly against national interest.”
On January 17, 2020, the report says, the debate aired with the title, “Shaheen Bagh campaign: Call off ‘political protests’”, with a hashtag #ShaheenBaghSham, with the anchor stating, “This group wants bloodshed. Thousands of Rohingya refugees are living in camps in and around Kalindi Kunj and Shaheen Bagh…You’re bringing infiltrators into the protest, foreigners, threats to internal security are being provoked out there. Small children are being told that their entire life’s purpose should be to assassinate Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.”
On January 27, 2020, the report continues, in an episode of Republic TV titled “12 tapes expose ‘Break India’ conspiracy”, which ran with the hashtag #UniteForIndia, the anchor opened the show with, “Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, thank you for your support for the unite for India campaign, our campaign against the Muslim supremacist Islamic radicals who are trying to create a Shaheen Bagh experiment everywhere in India. And we must call them out as Muslim supremacists because their philosophy is Muslims for Muslims.”
The report underlines, “These channels framed the protest movement as a homegrown conspiracy with violent motives, hatched either by the opposition, or by international actors. Within this, there was also an attempt to frame the protests as anti-Modi as a conspiracy aimed to discredit the Prime Minister and exaggerate the dangers posed by the CAA-NRC.”
Thus, on December 19, 2019, an episode on India TV was titled as, “Modi’s enemy, the riot brigade...There is politics beyond fear.” And on January 3, 2020, in an episode, Republic Bharat stated that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were part of those inciting violence “without any evidence to back this claim.” And on January 4, 2020, the Times Now episode titled “Are the CAA Protests an anti-Modi Conspiracy to Mislead Muslims?” ran with the hashtag #CAAAntiModiConspiracy.
On January 15, 2020, an episode of Republic TV was aired with the title “Congress-Pakistan hold CAA meet in Lahore?” and the hashtag #LahoreConspiracy. Printed text on the screen read, “Lahore to Shaheen Bagh via ISI?”. During the show, the anchor stated: “Please understand the dangerous mind that is planning this... They want to create a Shaheen Bagh political business model supported by the Pakistanis.”
Pointing out that from about mid-January 2020, the TV channels started giving calls for the closure of the Shaheen Bagh protest, the report says, “Following a protest by residents of Sarita Vihar in Delhi demanding the removal of police barricades in their neighborhood (ostensibly placed because of the neighbouring sit-in protests), an episode of Republic TV of January 21, 2020 whipped up a Hindu-Muslim narrative between Sarita Vihar and Shaheen Bagh, casting Shaheen Bagh as anti-Hindu.”
Thus, says the report, the anchor made the remarks: “Not far from Shaheen Bagh in Delhi is a colony called Sarita Vihar. Sarita Vihar is large residential colony whose hardworking tax-paying citizens have had their lives turned upside down for over a month. The children in Sarita Vihar have been terrorized and traumatized by the violent protests unending at Shaheen Bagh. All the roads are blocked all the time by the politicians and violent protesters at Shaheen Bagh.”
The anchor continued, “Anti-nationals and members of the tukde-tukde gang mock these people of Sarita Vihar, they laugh at them, and one of them said today on Twitter that till 370 is not brought back in Kashmir, the people of Sarita Vihar and other parts of Delhi must be prepared to pay and must be prepared to suffer. Shaheen Bagh, which is a useful epicenter of an anti-Hindu, anti-India, money guzzling, opportunistic and entirely political movement.”
On February 17, 2020, the report quotes Republic Bharat anchor making the remark, “The people of this country are against Shaheen Bagh...You’ll have to stop the protests or else you’ll be uprooted...Until there are riots, these people won’t shut up, we will not let riots take place.”he added, “Hindus are being provoked on account of Shaheen Bagh.” A panelist on the show was allowed to make the provocative remark, “Only Muslims cause riots in the country” and “Rioters should be shot.”
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*Editor, Counterview

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